Horticultural Golfing Society - History


The Horticultural Golfing Society was founded in 1929.

Since then so many events have changed our lives and our golf. There have been wars, changes in how we travel and there have been immense changes in how we contact and communicate with each other, both in business and socially. In golf, our equipment, clothing and buggies to ride on are all so different to 1929. 

Today the HGS still play golf on some of the finest golf courses in the world. We enjoy good company, good food and probably tell the same jokes. We are proud of our past but embrace change and look forward to the future.

A Brief History 

Founded in 1929, the Horticultural Golfing Society can rightly claim to be one of the oldest golf societies in Britain - a fact recognised in 1989 during its 60th anniversary year when the famous course of Muirfield in Scotland, home to The Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers and host to many Open Championships, not only allowed the Society the privilege of holding a meeting there, but extended the honour of allowing them to play two rounds in the day - something unheard of for societies at that august establishment and a measure of the regard held in the golfing world for the H.G.S.

The first President of the Society, Sir Frank Newnes, was the proprietor of the Amateur Gardening magazine and coincidentally, owner of the News of The World. Also owner of the prestigious Walton Heath Golf Club, a venue for both the Ryder Cup and the European championship, Sir Frank allowed the Society to hold meetings at the club, a tradition unbroken throughout the long history of the Society. In the early days, members played free at Walton Heath - provided they paid half a crown (12.5p) to their caddies !

Originally membership was restricted to the principals (or their nominees) of businesses in the horticultural and allied trades in Covent Garden.

Amateur Gardening provided the secretarial facilities and as late as 1975, committee meetings were still being held at the Waldorf Hotel, Aldwych - nice and handy for the Old Covent Garden.

Amateur Gardening finally severed its official links with the Society in 1966 when it announced that, regretfully, it could no longer provide administration, and it was agreed at the AGM of that year to raise the subscription to three guineas (three pounds fifteen pence) to allow for the necessarily increased costs of this administration.

The first secreatry was Hedley Willis of Amateur Gardening and the list of founder members reads like a horticultural Who's Who, with names like Arthur Hellyer, Thomas Rochford, Oliver Slocock and George Monro, Later luminaries of the horticultural world included the well known writer and broadcaster W.E. (bill) Sowerbutts who played off a useful handicap of 10.

Whilst the office of Secretary, later combined with that of treasurer, is an honorary position, it was agreed in 1977 that the Society should undertake to pay the secretary's annual golf club subscription - a substantial recognition of the huge amount of work involved in this task.

With such an excellent pedigree, it is no surprise that besides Walton Heath, the Society has enjoyed meetings at some of Britain's finest courses, including such famous names as Sunningdale, Wentworth, The Berkshire, St. George's Hill and Prince's. It is of interest to note that at the meeting of November 1969, members were advised of an increase at Sunningdale to eighty three shillings (£4) whilst the annual subscription for the following year was agreed at three guineas (three pounds fifteen pence).

The Southport Flower Shower was, after Chelsea, probably the most famous and important flower show of the time in the horticulturalist's calendar, and for many years, the Society held a meeting in the area to coincide with the Show.

Meetings were held at the best courses in the area, including Hesketh, Southport and Ainsdale, Hillside and Royal Birkdale. Originally sponsored by Amateur Gardening magazine, these meetings became known as 'The Northern Meetings' and the principal trophy, the Southport Challenge Cup was presented to the Society by the Southport Corporation who also sponsored prizes. The grand finale of the event was a dinner given by the Corporation for the Society, hosted by the Mayor. Unfortunately, by 1966, support from members, reflecting the imbalance in membership numbers between north and south and the dilution of pure horticulturalists in the membership meant that so few members made the journey to Lancashire that, to avoid embarrassment to the mayor and Corporation, the event was quietly dropped from the calendar. However, the trophy remains as a constant reminder of the high regard in which the Society was held.

A recurring topic at A.G.M.s throughout the Society's history is the ever increasing cost of playing the country's best golf courses and it is of little surprise that Sunningdale appears often in the minutes down the years - always for the same reason - the steeply continuing costs of playing: up, for example, in 1988 to £175 from £125 the previous year. There is also on record, an attempt by the club to persuade society members to pay the green fees of Sunningdale members to cover their loss of the use of the course when the society was playing on it - a request that got short shrift from the membership !

Whilst the average society handicap hovers around the mid teens, there have been many exceptional golfers enjoying membership over the years, including John Watts who was congratulated by the society in 1975 for coming runner-up in the Amateur championship of the previous year. Another member, Harold Rance was commemorated in the national press in 1966 when he won a record 50th club and county competition. Society records indicate that in July 1950 Harold was playing off a handicap of plus 1 - a remarkable achievement for any amateur. Needless to say, his name appears regularly over many years in the list of prizewinners at Society meetings. Harold, who represented the firm of Cooper McDougall and Robertson of Berkhamsted, manufacturers of insecticide for use in horticulture and agriculture, enjoyed his membership of the Society so much that on his retirement, he presented it with a replica of the Gold Cup.

Notwithstanding the level of play, a move to reduce playing handicaps to a maximum of 18 was rejected in 1971, but in 1990 it was agreed that a maximum stroke allowance of 18 would apply to all future meetings with the exception of members aged over 65 who could claim the full stroke allowance afforded by their handicap. At a later date it was decided that an 'age allowance' would be made using a 'stroke per years' formula to advantage members over 55. (for the current situation see the rules section)

The rules of golf must be amongst the most tightly governed and interpreted in any sport and in 1966 a member's entry in the President's Prize competition was rejected because, although signed by him, it was not correctly marked - an infringement so heavily frowned upon that his subsequent resignation was not only accepted but confirmed when he tried to withdraw it later.

Some discussion over the years has been devoted to the serious matter of the Society's official tie - a reference to the 'peculiar shade of green' of the original tie was made in 1989 and it was agreed that the society should offer a choice of blue or green. The material and manufacturing method of this item of apparel has also given concern to members over the years, with debates over whether it should be of silk or terylene, with the logo woven or printed. It was also agreed in 1989 that the cost of the tie should be included in the first year's membership and that a fine of one pound should be levied for not wearing it at official meetings although there is no record of this becoming tradition.

Despite most meetings taking place in the south of England, the calibre of the Society is such that it attracts members from all over the country, members coming from as far afield as Yorkshire and Wales to enjoy the golf and the companionship.

Since those early days, the membership has broadened to include growers, seedsmen, sundriesmen, indeed anyone associated with the horticultural industry. However, this membership was jealously guarded and, in 1978, two members were not re-elected since it was agreed that they had no connection with horticulture. However, with the need to find new members in a shrinking industry, the Society agreed, in 1996, to allow Associated membership for guests who had supported the Society over a number of years.

Each year, the Society arranges an 'away trip' - usually 4-5 days in September, when members can stay at a pleasant venue away from their usual haunts, enjoy golf on championship courses and enjoy the fellowship of their fellow members and guests and their partners. These are traditionally well supported and have visited various venues in Scotland, Ireland and France as well as many places revered by golfers on all four corners of England.

But the most unusual trip must surely have been made in 1998 when a party of 40 members and partners visited the Czech Republic and played the two superb courses at Karlovy Vary and Marianske Lazne, staying at the remarkable Grandhotel Pupp, founded in 1702.

Having many close ties with the agricultural industry, it seemed  natural that in 1997 an annual match be set up against the NFU Club Golf Society. The first match was held at West Surrey G.C. and was deemed a great success. This fixture continues today at various memorable courses.

In 1979, the jubilee year of the Society, a dinner was held for members to which the captains and secretaries of Walton Heath, Sunningdale, The Berkshire and St. George's were invited; Walton Heath was presented with a wooden Bench seat and the other clubs with an appropriate horticultural gift - a tree or shrub of their choice, to mark the long association with the Society. A similar dinner was held at the Carlton Club in London to commemorate the sixtieth anniversary in 1989 which was again the venue for the 75th Anniversary Dinner on 2004. Where will the Society celebrate 100 years in 2029 ?


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